By Jean Price, Guest Columnist
When illness or injury causes long term consequences and persistent pain, we often grieve for what we used to be and do before the pain. That's natural, because we've lost that particular "design" of ourselves that we knew and liked, even though we usually took it for granted.
Chronic pain sufferers don’t take anything for granted anymore, not with pain invading and diminishing our functioning, ability to work, care for ourselves, and be an active part of our families and friendships. We want what we most likely won't have again.
In life, natural aging is a lot like this too, only there is more time to adjust and it feels more like a natural process, not like something that has been ripped out of our hands.
At first, we spend a lot of time waiting to get well and wanting to be healed. To get better, get back on our feet, and rise above where we are. To be whole again.
In the past, we usually recovered from ailments and injuries. But not when we cross that bridge into daily and life-limiting pain. In a sense, we aren't really "sick." We've just reached a new normal. There's no cure or any way to change us back.
I remember a long ago evening when my daughter was too slow to get up and help me set the table and get dinner ready. So I told her rather abruptly I didn't feel like doing it and really needed her help. She replied that she had a headache and didn't feel like it either, adding something that stopped me in my tracks.
"Mom, I'm sick tonight and you're not!" she said.
It wasn't until later that night that I realized what she had meant with those few words. I had been to the doctor the day before and had a bruise the size of a dinner plate on my hip from an injection. I was starting into the second year of severe pain after a failed back surgery. A surgery with devastating complications that resulted in a second surgery two weeks later; ending with multiple doctors’ appointments and a dozen courses of steroid treatments over the next year. It made me even sicker and still unable to lift my leg.
I really felt sick, yet this had gone on so long that my daughter didn’t see me as sick anymore. I was just being me, and my pain and disability was normal. For her, the old mom was already history. For me, I truly expected that if I just worked harder, found the right doctor, and suffered through the right treatment, I'd get back to my old idea of normal.
And of course I haven't. Instead, I've been through many new normals, all of them feeling like a downward spiral.
Until I found there is actually a big upside to all of this: I have become a better person.
It's taken a lot of work. Grief is a verb and requires work! And it has taken good support from others and much learning. Yet the current "new me" has some really special attributes. She is more patient, more compassionate, more at peace with change, more generous to herself and others, has a much stronger and tested faith, and has more joy in the little things of life.
She is less angry, less judgmental, less serious, less hyper-responsible, more loving, less co-dependent, more forgiving, more trusting of herself, more self-affirming, gives better support to others, and basically is way more whole. Less functional, certainly, but more whole.
Odd, but it's true. When our bodies fail us, we can choose to keep growing our minds and spirits, and we can find important things in life that are still easy, even when we can't do much. We find that love and joy come in little, surprising packages just waiting to be seen. And we find that there is more to life than what we do. We aren't human doings, but rather human beings.
Even with pain, we can chose to be kind, loving, at peace, and better than we were. We are not our pain. We are worthy and wonderful creations, and still enhance this world.
Yes, I do miss what I used to be able to do, but I really don't miss the person I was. Not at all! Because I like the person I am now so much better. Probably because I have been tempered by all that I’ve been through, and enriched by all the people and blessings in my life.
Life is full of changes and each change brings loss; even the chosen changes or the more positive changes still have losses. Yet we don't have to lose ourselves in the process of pain. We can become more and better.
It's a choice. One of the few things we do have control of. How we feel emotionally, how we react, and how we think of ourselves and the world.
Pain doesn't stop us from being ourselves, only we can do that to ourselves. And if we do, then we've really lost, because the special person we each are deserves to be part of this world, and can still contribute and find joy, despite pain.
I think I'm living, breathing proof of this. And I'm glad I don't really have the choice of giving up pain or giving up who I have become. Because as odd as it may sound, that would be a really tough choice.
Jean Price and her family live in North Carolina. Her chronic back pain began with a herniated disk and escalated after major complications from surgery. Jean also suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, and is a breast cancer survivor.
Pain News Network invites other readers to share their stories with us. Send them to: editor@PainNewsNetwork.org.
The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.